Cambodia / South East Asia

Why I hated Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville – or Snookyville as everyone around me seemed to call it – was easily my least favourite destination in Cambodia.

523272_601710482866_500839516_nI so badly wanted to love it.

In terms of anticipation, it was up there with Angkor Wat. I excitedly read Adventurous Kate’s post on Sihanoukville and ran off to buy my bus ticket from Siem Reap.

I hated it.

Now, I don’t like to pick fault with somewhere that I stayed for just a few days, but Sihanoukville is the one place in South East Asia that I couldn’t wait to leave.

It began badly. As soon as I stepped off the bus I was accosted by the tuk tuk mafia and forced to fork out twice as much as it should cost to get into town – a grimy and fairly underwhelming place that seemed to have nothing of interest to see.

I checked into Monkey Republic, a friendly and cheap hostel on the main strip. I stayed in one of its private bungalows which I’d highly recommend to anyone staying in the area. The owners couldn’t have been more helpful, and the portions sizes at its on site restaurant were on the right side of enormous.

My first evening in SIhanoukville brought an uncomfortable realisation – for every backpacker there seemed to be two sex tourists. They skulked around its bars leering at local girls who looked to be barely in their teens. I watched one man shove his hands down a girl’s shorts before moving on to grind his bulging crotch on another. They kept walking away, only for his beer belly to lumber after them.

While I’m not against sex tourism per se, watching Western men repeatedly attempt to grope young girls made me feel very sick indeed.

The situation seemed altogether sleazier than in Thailand. It didn’t seem to be foreigners coming for a quick hook up, or in some cases, love, with a pretty prostitute. It just felt sinister. There were plenty of working girls at the bars, but the men seemed to migrate towards girls who (as far as I could tell) were just ordinary locals.

Cambodia has, rightly or wrong, developed a reputation as a haven for peadophiles and sex tourists. All over the country I noticed billboards asking people to contact them if they came across anything untoward, and offering reassurance that something was being done. But despite the government’s attempts to deal with the issue, it wasn’t topping the local law enforcement’s list of priorities in Sihanoukville.

Oh and It rained. A lot. Seeing as Snookyville’s main attraction is its beaches, I was completely stuck for things to do. I didn’t really ‘do’ drinking after a very bad experience on Koh Tao so the endless Western bar workers forcing free whiskey shots onto everyone who passed by didn’t hold much appeal to me. And trust me, you needed those shots to stand JJs and Dolphin at 2am.

For someone who doesn’t ta408205_10151211550857650_1071844924_nke drugs, being offered them every time I stepped into a bar and never really getting away from the stench of weed also began to wear thin.

I found the locals in Sihanoukville to be the least friendly people I met in Cambodia, which saddened me, I genuinely believe that Cambodians are some of the most helpful and friendly people in the world. But I just felt like everyone was trying to rip me off here, from the overcharging tuk tuk drivers, to the owner of a book store who insisted I needed to give him 5 books in exchange for one second hand and bootlegged copy.

I also felt uneasy walking around by myself, something that I didn’t experience anywhere else in Cambodia, and found myself clutching my bag and hurrying from the bars back to Monkey Republic as fast as I could.

Throw into the mix a hell of a lot of panic when the crew on the boat to the (absolutely beautiful) island of Koh Rong asked who could swim an hour into the journey before pulling out 4 life jackets – for over forty people. Afterwards I was told it had been the roughest crossing of the year.

Finally, I gave up and booked a bus to Kampot: On it was a man who spent the whole time letting his hand settle on my leg, and who cheerily ignored my embarrassed attempts at shaking it off – and underneath my seat was a box of live chickens.

I’d love to go back to South East Asia, but I’ll be giving Sihanoukville a miss. That’s not to say I’m advocating that anyone travelling in Cambodia skip over Sihanoukville – clearly other bloggers had an amazing experience in the town, just for me, a non-drinking, solo female traveller, it was a bad fit.

Have you been to Sihanoukville? What did you think of it? Let me know!

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30 thoughts on “Why I hated Sihanoukville

  1. Paedophilia is actually illegal in Cambodia and there are many organisations trying to stamp it out. If what you saw in Sihanoukville was an example of paedophilia then you should have reported it. However I suspect it wasn’t.

    • I didn’t say otherwise. I know the Cambodian government is doing some excellent work in trying to tackle the problem, but nevertheless it was highly unpleasant to see a substantial number of Western men sexually harassing girls who were clearly under 16.

      • I second your opinion! We were in Sihanoukville about a month ago and we had the same feeling about the place. Also Phnom Penh had tons of single, older men looking at very young girls. Ugh. Kampot is a favorite place also Kimley’s in Kep for Kampot Pepper Crab. But P.P and Sihanoukville are totally sleazey.

        NGOs and government agencies are trying to eliminate sexual tourism – billboards and signs are every where – but there seems to be an endless supply of foreigners who do not heed the pleas.

  2. What about the latest trend in sex tourists in Sihanoukville, Western female backpackers and the Khmer motorcycle taxi/tuk tuk guys? Hilarious levels of hypocrisy on display as the very same females tut-tut the Expat guys and their bargirls.

    • What a completely bullshit argument, Norman. While there are some Western women dating Khmer tuk tuk drivers, the numbers aren’t even comparable. Saying that a woman who is not dating a tuk tuk driver is somehow a hypocrite for disapproving of creepy male sexpats because OTHER women are dating Khmers? Ridiculous.

      Georgia, this guy was almost certainly not messing with a teenager — there are so many organizations in Sihanoukville on the lookout for this that you wouldn’t see it out in the open like this. These girls women probably young looking prostitutes that do this by choice, for a living. That said, the guy in question is still a creepy sexpat based on your description.

  3. Oh dear, another wannabe parachute journalist blogger seeing what she wants to see in Cambodia. Funny how the ‘barely in her teens’ girls morphs into an ‘under 16 year old’ so quickly. You know what – I’d be prepared to wager she’s in her early 20s and probably Vietnamese – they often look about a decade younger to their western counterparts to unfamiliar eyes. I’m not denying that Sihanoukville is a shithole full of unsavoury westerners, but there’s no need to make stuff up or report such unsubstantiated nonsense – especially given your career aspiration.

  4. I don’t like Snooky (or Scaryville as it’s also known in Phnom Penh) so I just don’t go there. When I do, like for a wedding last year, I don’t go to the type of bar you obviously went to. There are decent bars there, you just need to know where to go. In my opinion, Leo and Kampot are the best destinations in Cambodia.

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  7. There’s no such thing as ‘just ordinary local’ girls in Cambodian bars. And certainly not in Sianoukville out of all places. Every Cambodian girl found in such a bar is a taxigirl. If you believe othervise you obviously haven’t been in Cambodia long enough. Get used to it. Cambodia = land of pussy.

  8. I was looking at visiting Cambodia but after reading your blog have changed my mind.
    Obviously any solo male older than 23 years travelling Cambodia is a pedophile and sex tourist.
    Thank you for helping me avoid offending spoilt western females by being in a place where all men travel just to violate local women and children.
    Without your journalistic skills perhaps I may have been branded a dirty old man.

    Also can you do an article on the fat ugly white English girls that frequent the beaches in Australia. You see they get drunk parade around topless and are always trying to have sex with the local boys..Some of whom are no older than 16. They must be stopped.

  9. what i didn’t like about Sihanouk ville
    1st thing is there isn’t enough women, im not after sex but if a Cambodian women see’s u in a bar and u talk to her she knows u, she thinks she knows u,and who ever she see’s u with she will let them know that she knows u !!!!!!!!!!!!
    2nd kids in bars no no, im not one of these people and think to much about the kids running around, i just don’t want them in the bar when people are full of bad manners
    3rd nothing to do, what is there to do here another then go to the shity dirty beach?
    4th tuk tuks are so bad here and so annoying its like they are there own race of people
    5th is the western people who have lived there to long here bis my complain
    1st of all all u expats, this isn’t your country, you all rubbish backpackers they come here to party not die, people are young and on holidays let them enjoy them self’s just because your an old fart, people who live here tend to forget what they were like when they 1st got here
    just because u own a guesthouse or bar don’t mean u have done great things with your life, if anyone and trust me try this tell a expat that u are going to open a business they will laugh at you, because they know all about bar’s, restaurant, and guess houses
    did i say bar’s, restaurant, and guess houses no i dint but that’s what they think your going to do and they will tell u its not going to work and they will go on and on about how there is no money here this whole time mind you, you haven’t even got to explain what it is your going to do

    they don’t like backpackers they like your money that’s it !!!!
    because everyone that comes here is a sex tourist, here for the drugs or here for cheap beer, this is there way of thinking, and when your Holiday is finished people tend to have no money left, so u do have scammers just like everyone else but these people, think that most people are here to do that, one place i said to the owner that the book on the book self was a great book i loved it, later that day when i wanted a coffee he took the book away because he thought i was going to steal it, he later in the night tried to fight me because he said i was trying to scam a lighter and that i have not paid for it yet
    (mind u i had not paid for my bill)
    downtown is the worst, a number of bar owners, are losers, and there long term costumers are all just waiting to die, they are even Jealous of you if u have a nice looking women talking with u who could be Jealous of a prostitute ? i mean really
    Cambodia Scammers! is on Facebook there is another Facebook page for these old expats called Cambodian bitch fight club or something of the likes
    there is also another site that has little bitch fights as well
    so bar and guess houses the owners don’t like each other, but they will still go out of there way to talk with each other just so they can learn something, or hear gossip
    really petty
    all they do is bitch and moan about other people and other business, because they have lived here so long they have become Cambodian they think everyone is going to scam or rip them off, remeber these old dill’s have been ripped off many times from women locals and yes westerns as well and they are so wise to it all ha ha
    i remember another time i got off the plane and the airline company lost my baggage

    when i got to Sihanouk ville that night i told the guess house owner about it for a joke about how useless they were, 1st thing he said was he looked at me in the eyes and said so u got no money, ha ha he thought i was try to scam him,

    today i leave and i am happy a lot of people are happy i am going because they wont see me giving them the finger
    remember u old retired wankers this is not your country thank u and go fuck yourself

    • Wow who shook your cage ! I have just arrived and yes in just 24 hrs I hate it already ! At first glance most of your comments ring true especially the sad old expats !! And as for the ” Dads Army ” chasing the young local girls enough said !! But also the scuffy backpackers !! Wtf …. Please get a wash / take those silly dreadlocks out / get a shave or tidy the beard up ( that goes for the guys as well ) and no I don’t want to look at your tacky spiritual tatts ! And please please when you come into a restaurant wear some footwear !!
      God knows what the local Cambodian people think of foreigners – we are either old sex perverts or cheap ( and I mean CHEAP ) smelly backpackers who don’t have a pot to piss in !!

      • I get so sick and tired of people condeming men who through no fault of their own, happen to have lived longer than younger men, and who have a natural sexual appetite for attractive young men. What about all those younger males of around 19 you happen to see with attractive young women. Oh, but they are the same age! Yes, them, what about those ” perverts” nothing to say about them eh! Makes me sick!

        I spent twenty five years of my life going to bars and nightclubs in the UK, approaching girls and often getting blanked, or receiving nasty vicious remarks for my efforts to be nice. Try dancing with a girl, and you are likely to get a turned back.

        It’s Western attitudes that I find disgusting, especially the abhor ant manner in which young women regard it as being fair game to be as obnoxious as they like to men.

        To ridicule Asian perspectives, where a girl is likely to be polite and nice to a guy, irrespective of many cooked breakfasts he happens to have consumed, is neaseating.

  10. LIke Christian fundamentalist. These folks are so wrapped around the I, me, me, that they never plug into what is and accept life. All I read was judgment and negativity. There life box is so small I am surprised they haven’t chocked to death.
    Cambodia is a third world country. Life is different here. If one comes with an idea that life here is going to be like home, I would advise you stay home, rent some travel videos, close your curtains and pretend the world is a fairy tale. Get out of your judgmental attitude.
    I came her for six months, and I am not a sex tourist. The attraction for me is warm people and warm weather. For me, I look for the beauty in life, and usually find it anywhere I go. If one has learned about life, one knows life is always perfect, and if we embrace it our consciousness expands and continuously expand. From the comments I read I would say the average commenter is ignorant about life and already dead. Don’t be mislead by the functioning of the respiratory and circulatory systems as proof of life. They are proof the body is still intact. However, that does not mean ones consciousness is alive.
    I really dislike the cold heartless and self absorbed in the west, where existentialism, built on a foundation of materialism, rules. Get a life, don’t worry, be happy and the sun will shine for you where ever you are.

    • great comment, ive been living out here for a few years, none of these people have a clue about anything about cambodia, learn the language, get to know the locals, some of my local friends who live in sihanoukville just took me back to their village in kampong cham province for 5 days to celebrate the khmer new year the traditional village way, was an amazing experience, unless you take the time and gain a little local knowledge here in cambodia you will end up having shitty experiences, its not set up the same way thailand is, its a 3rd world country, the beach bars are going down hill though the more and more sex tourists and ice head taxi girls and ladyboys that congregate down there

  11. my comments are awaiting moderation. What does that mean? Do you censor comments that are not aligned with your thinking?

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  13. I also very much disliked Sihanoukville. After reading the Lonely planet I was super excited to go here. I usually find Lonely Planet to be fairly accurate, but they sure missed the boat on this one. We took a night bus from Siem Reap, which was fine until we got off the bus.. If you’ve ever been on a night bus you know sleep usually doesn’t happen in a consistent fashion. Anyways getting off the bus at 530am only to be flooded by aggressive tuktuk drivers trying to charge 5x the suggested amount to get into town. We had a booking at Monkey Republic for a private bungelow..which we told him about(like the one you stayed in – which apparently burnt down last year?) But this tuktuk driver had a different agenda and stopped to try and get us to stay at his “friend’s” place. No thank you sir. Finally he took us to where we wanted to go. First people we saw on the main drag we’re some leftover straggling party people from the night before (men) with some women who definitely were not backpackers themselves (locals). You’re right on the huge portions and Monkey Republic which was amazing. I had one of my only theft experiences at there though which made me upset, I’m have no idea who but someone stole my soaking wet denim shorts from the chair on my bungalow when I went out for lunch…my friend also had hers’ drying but they only took mine. Usually I wouldn’t get as upset about this (because after all I did leave them laying out in the open) but when you’re a backpacker and you only have a few possessions it’s extra sucky. I also got yelled at by one of the girls on main beach because I didn’t buy a bracelet from her. They were hustlers..I should have just bought a bracelet so they’d leave me alone. She yelled at me and followed me to the restaurant I was eating at and yelled at me from the sidewalk..it wasn’t a great experience. I just felt uncomfortable there, a big reason being the creepy old guys with young Cambodian girls. They would just sit in restaurants in silence..probably because the girl doesn’t speak english..oh and maybe because they have NOTHING in common. Anyways we got out of Sihanoukville quick because it just felt seedy, unsafe, wasn’t sunny and just overall not our cup of tea. We ended up going to Koh Rong and having an amazing time. After Koh Rong we came back for a night and stayed at Otres Beach (instead of Serendipity) and it was pretty nice, a lot chiller and not as dirty or seedy. Our bungalow, Otres Orchid, was really nice and affordable.
    Anyways, I understand everyone is different, but I just wanted you to know you weren’t alone on this one. I had the worse time of my 4 month South East Asia trip in Sihanoukville and will probably never go back.

  14. You are clearly a Westerner with a serious judgemental attitude. And no understanding of Asian culture and the “Westermer” relationship. Short or long term. Asians often appear and act half the age they actually are. So the 16 year old was probably 20 to 25. Many Western female solo travelers get left in the dust, and not even looked at, when they come to Asia. This they do not know how to take, thus jealousy comes out it lots of negative ways. After being married to a Thai for 13 years, I don’t even talk to Western women much. There’s always two sides to every story. Wish you the best.

  15. It’s funny how many people jump on the blogger’s bandwagon of negativity, I am sure that when you parked yourself in backpacker’s heaven/haven. You figured everyone was going to be just like you. Backpackers go to the budget places they are told to go, not the cheapest places, but the places that will squeeze out a few dollars more when they can. Can you blame them? People here work for less than $2 a day in the factories, when someone ‘scams’ you, it is often $1 at a time, get over it.
    When you go to bars in the tourist areas, of course the working girls are there, they know where the money is, it’s in the tourists’ pockets, and they want to sell a service for maximum profit. That’s life in a third world country, but the sex industry is not nearly as big as in Thailand.
    I was afraid when I arrived to Sihanoukville and stayed 1 night, but I had never traveled before this. I went to northern Thailand for 2 months and returned to a friendly, safe, and enjoyable environment in Sihanoukville. I spent 2 weeks then to the north in Siem Reap….to which there is more scams….but I suppose that the ‘Temples’ absolve all. To Thailand south for 2 months….Phuket Island….even bigger scam….lol.
    Now back in Snooky and having a great time. You put yourself in a vulnerable position and you pay the piper. That’s the bottom line. If you expect anything different, you’re living in a fantasy world.

  16. DO NOT TAKE A TUK TUK ALONE. I tried to take one to Kerfuffle from Otres 1 at midnight by myself (23-24/03/2016). I now have an open fracture to my forearm from being hit by the tuk tuk driver with a metal bar. If I hadn’t put my arm up I would probably have a broken skull or be dead. It wasn’t an argument over the price – it was a premeditated mugging. After agreeing the price outside the Greenhouse Effect another tuk tuk driver got in with me. They then drove about a kilometer along the road before turning down a side road to the beach before stopping and demanding money. I said no and before I knew it the metal bar was coming towards my head. I hadn’t seen the bar before that. I got away by throwing $10 on the floor and running away down the road and screaming for help to a vehicle coming towards us. It didn’t stop so I ran across the burnt land to the beach and they stopped chasing me. I’m now back in the UK in hospital to get a plate screwed into my bone. I was drunk at the time so they probably saw me as an easy target. I never made it to Kerfuffle.
    The next day, Thursday, I went back to the CT clinic where the’d put my arm in a cast to have the wound redressed where I had been hit by the metal bar. The tuk tuk driver that took was wearing the sunglasses that had come off when I ran away. He claimed to have got them from a market a few days before. I knew they were mine as there was an offset crease in the frame where I’d bent them back into place previously. I got them back by paying six dollars as all of a sudden he did not understand English.I doubt he had anything to do with the mugging but its fairly likely he knew where they were from since he’d blatantly lied about where they were from.
    I would sincerely advise you to look at organising alternative transport to the rave. I’m a fit young(ish) 39 year old and got away but others may not be so lucky.
    Such a shame as up to then I spent 5 lovely weeks at Otres 1 and no particular problems other than the standard pestering, haggling and overcharging by tuk tuk drivers.

  17. Have to agree with some of your observations and disagree with others. Firstly, like Some places in Loas, every resteraunt/ bar you go to, stinking of narcotics is awful. Secondly I have to entirely disagree with your evaluation of “sex tourism” . As in Loas, e.g. Vang Vieng, the majority of sex tourism is the backpackers at it with each other. Secondly, the only local women in the bars who “go” with foreigners are the old and ugly ones. None of the attractive young ones even entertain the thought of accompanying a guy. There are so many comments on the Ingernet about this, which are simply wrong, as they are about the Capital city. Women who will never see twenty five or thirty again, never mind 18! Koh Ta Kiev is quite nice and mostly unspoiled and Otres is OK. Like many places in Asia, it can be difficult to find places with Asian music and cultural feel. It,s all western music and western culture. Oh dear, what a disappointment, but difficult to find otherwise ( unless you go to Pattaya, with its bar parties with live traditional and modern Thai music and AGOGO where the girls undertake ancient cultural rituals, and what makes it special is it is the “genuine article” not a show put on for tourists to watch.) For all of Pattaya,s bad points, it has Thai Asian culture ousing from its veins. Oh what a dissapointment when I go somewhere else, like Krabi, or most other Asian destinations. Western pop music ( no sorry we are not allowed to play your request, it’s not western pop music) pizza and chips, western resteraunts, tailor shops, Asians and foreigners alike with Afro hairstyles playing Caribbean music. Inappropriate, stupid, out of place etc, etc.

  18. I’m interested in a discussion with you about your comment that locals in sihanoukville are less friendly than other places in cambodia. I agree with you, but I’m interested to know the reason for this. I am a 5 year resident of Cambodia, and I have similar experiences to what you described. I live near the temples at siem reap, and I consider my friends and acquaintances there to be much friendlier than people at the beach. I don’t know if this is a prejudice because I know them and I’m familiar with them or if it’s really true. I want to live at the beach, but these factors prevent me. One other factor is that there are no rental rooms near the beach. I once rented a normal rental room about 2 kilometers from the beach, but only made it through three weeks. as I read your comments it occurred to me that a lot of people working in siem reap have specific training in hospitality. in fact talk English for hospitality at a big hotel there. I don’t really know. But I am very interested that you have this perception of the difference in friendliness. this is a bit disorganized, as I am writing off the cuff.I want to consider the idea that a lot of the sex tourists that you see at the beach, and I’m talking about men, found their girls in phnom Penh and brought them to the beach. that’s really another topic. I hope you are interested in discussing this.

  19. I’ve lived in Sihanoukville for over ten years and I’ve had less bad experiences in those years than you had in two days. Slight exaggeration, but it’s my experience that Sihanoukville is an oasis unmatched in SE Asia. Again, slight exaggeration, but like any city it depends on where you spend your time. I’d guess that you spent most of your time at Ochheuteal beach. I’d have recommended Otres or Independance Beaches. In this city of around 100,000 people, all of the sex tourist can be found (or avoided) congregated in two areas- and Ochheuteal beach is one of those places. You left room in your post for others to form their own opinions. I give you credit for that. Frankly, it sounds like you just had a bad day (or two) in Sihanoukville. I’m sorry for that. I hope the rest of your travel is a better experience.

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